"Random" airside security check at Vienna Airport?

Old Jul 16, 19, 9:44 am
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"Random" airside security check at Vienna Airport?

Earlier this year, in April, my husband and I flew home to Indianapolis from Vienna, with a connection in Chicago O'Hare. My husband was "randomly selected" by a security person at Vienna airport before we boarded the Austrian Airlines VIE-ORD flight. He was walking to our departure gate, by himself (I was still trying to take care of the VAT refund, so he went to the gate ahead of me), and the security person decided to take him to a separate screening area, not visible from the concourse. It was good that he texted me before he was taken, otherwise I would have thought he was abducted.

It took about 45 minutes for the additional "random screening" to be completed on my husband. Because it was taking so long, I was getting worried. Since I did not know exactly where my husband was taken to, I asked one of the Austrian Airlines agent in the terminal if they know where my husband may have been taken. I was told that he is in a screening area just behind one of the walls, and that this is a "US thing, not an Austrian thing." The last comment struck me as very odd. I had no idea US TSA/CBP could be screening US bound passengers in Vienna. There were a few others on our flight who had to go through this procedure as well, and their families/travel companions were also very worried. My husband told me they asked him the very typical nonsense questions (Where are you going? How long we you in Austria? What did you do in Austria?), and his carry-on bags were re-screened both visually and with an x-ray machine. My husband asked one of the personnel (He thought they were all Austrian.) why is he being selected, and what is the purpose of this screening. He was told "I'm just doing what I'm told to do." My husband replied to that comment by saying "Do you remember what happened to 6 million Jews when people of your country just did what they were told to do?" Luckily, my husband did not get in trouble for saying this.

Anyways, has any of you been "randomly selected" for additional screening at Vienna Airport? How long has this been going on? Is this something new? Is this done by the Austrian government, or by US government? Why are they doing this? I wonder how often someone misses his/her flight in Vienna because of this? We were lucky because we got to the airport a lot sooner than typically necessary.
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Old Jul 16, 19, 10:21 am
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Secondary Security Screening Selection is extensively discussed in the following thread:
'SSSS' on boarding pass
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Old Jul 16, 19, 11:28 am
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Originally Posted by psoque View Post
Earlier this year, in April, my husband and I flew home to Indianapolis from Vienna, with a connection in Chicago O'Hare. My husband was "randomly selected" by a security person at Vienna airport before we boarded the Austrian Airlines VIE-ORD flight. He was walking to our departure gate, by himself (I was still trying to take care of the VAT refund, so he went to the gate ahead of me), and the security person decided to take him to a separate screening area, not visible from the concourse. It was good that he texted me before he was taken, otherwise I would have thought he was abducted.

It took about 45 minutes for the additional "random screening" to be completed on my husband. Because it was taking so long, I was getting worried. Since I did not know exactly where my husband was taken to, I asked one of the Austrian Airlines agent in the terminal if they know where my husband may have been taken. I was told that he is in a screening area just behind one of the walls, and that this is a "US thing, not an Austrian thing." The last comment struck me as very odd. I had no idea US TSA/CBP could be screening US bound passengers in Vienna. There were a few others on our flight who had to go through this procedure as well, and their families/travel companions were also very worried. My husband told me they asked him the very typical nonsense questions (Where are you going? How long we you in Austria? What did you do in Austria?), and his carry-on bags were re-screened both visually and with an x-ray machine. My husband asked one of the personnel (He thought they were all Austrian.) why is he being selected, and what is the purpose of this screening. He was told "I'm just doing what I'm told to do." My husband replied to that comment by saying "Do you remember what happened to 6 million Jews when people of your country just did what they were told to do?" Luckily, my husband did not get in trouble for saying this.

Anyways, has any of you been "randomly selected" for additional screening at Vienna Airport? How long has this been going on? Is this something new? Is this done by the Austrian government, or by US government? Why are they doing this? I wonder how often someone misses his/her flight in Vienna because of this? We were lucky because we got to the airport a lot sooner than typically necessary.
Yes, the US Government mandated it to be done also for OS flights from VIE-US. It’s a USG-required compliance measure the US requires of OS in this case at least. OS uses a private security contractor to do these airside secondary searches at VIE. I’ve never had it take 45 minutes — usually way, way less than that — but I also tend to be one of the last passengers to get to the gate more often than not and that can work to my advantage in saving time and with some/most of all the security contractors wanting to leave as soon as they’ve hit their time and/or list limit for the flight/bank of flights.
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Old Jul 16, 19, 5:21 pm
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Originally Posted by TWA884 View Post
Secondary Security Screening Selection is extensively discussed in the following thread:
'SSSS' on boarding pass
Thanks, but his boarding pass did not have the dredded "SSSS" on it.

Originally Posted by GUWonder View Post


Yes, the US Government mandated it to be done also for OS flights from VIE-US. It’s a USG-required compliance measure the US requires of OS in this case at least. OS uses a private security contractor to do these airside secondary searches at VIE. I’ve never had it take 45 minutes — usually way, way less than that — but I also tend to be one of the last passengers to get to the gate more often than not and that can work to my advantage in saving time and with some/most of all the security contractors wanting to leave as soon as they’ve hit their time and/or list limit for the flight/bank of flights.
Thanks for your answer. Do you know why the US government is targeting this route? Also, are there other airports/airlines/routes US government is targeting? Maybe I'm just ignorant, but I don't understand why we should be asking the Austrian Airlines to perform additional security theater, especially out of Vienna, which as much better security measures than most of the US airports.

Last edited by TWA884; Jul 17, 19 at 8:53 am Reason: Merge consecutive posts by the same member; Please use the multi-quote function. Thank you.
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Old Jul 16, 19, 5:35 pm
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Originally Posted by psoque View Post
Thanks for your answer. Do you know why the US government is targeting this route? Also, are there other airports/airlines/routes US government is targeting? Maybe I'm just ignorant, but I don't understand why we should be asking the Austrian Airlines to perform additional security theater, especially out of Vienna, which as much better security measures than most of the US airports.
It’s not just this route, as it’s much the same kind of thing for most international routes to the US when using US or some other kind of carriers serving the US.
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Last edited by GUWonder; Jul 17, 19 at 7:38 am
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Old Jul 16, 19, 11:36 pm
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This has been going on for a couple of years now. In my travels, I found European airports to be more diligent than the airports in Asia.

https://fortune.com/2017/10/25/airpo...reign-flights/
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Old Jul 17, 19, 8:52 am
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Old Jul 17, 19, 9:09 am
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Originally Posted by psoque View Post
Thanks, but his boarding pass did not have the dredded "SSSS" on it.
Sometimes the airline security contractors — as part of an order to meet a search quota or if suspicious about a passenger for some other reason arising during an initial interaction between the contractor and passenger — will manually select a person to be subject to SSSS type screening despite no SSSS flag appearing on the boarding pass.

Having an SSSS boarding pass on a US-bound flight is not a requirement for being subject to the same kind of screening (or even more) as those who may have an SSSS boarding pass for the very same US-bound flight from abroad. While having an SSSS boarding pass for a US-bound flight is the most probable way to experience the kind of screening you noted , it’s not the only way to be subject to the same type of screening experience.

Last edited by TWA884; Jul 17, 19 at 9:12 am Reason: Opinion/commentary, not practical travel advice/information
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Old Jul 17, 19, 9:11 am
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I have it happen several times in various Euro airports
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Old Jul 18, 19, 1:13 pm
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As I far as I remember, this has been going on for a long while at different EU airports. Back in 2010, my wife and I were randomly selected by a Bundespolizist for a secondary screening at the gate. The screening itself was done by airport/LH contractors, but this policeman was standing by during the process. He looked apologetic and assured me that it was a US requirement. It took about 10 minutes to complete.
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Old Aug 11, 19, 11:44 am
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This has been around at European airports since at least the 1980s, and it applies only to flights to the USA.
In recent years, the random screenings have been applied to non-US carriers, such as Austrian.

In some cases, passengers are selected by a computer-based system, hence the "SSSS" or "quad" on a boarding card.
In other instances, there are the "SSSS" passengers as well as some "selected at random." The randomness is debatable.

Sometimes these passengers are selected during interviews at check-in; sometimes they are pulled out of the queue during boarding.
As I understand it, these procedures are conducted at the central screening area in Canadian pre-clearance airports, Frankfurt and Keflavik.
This is conducted on a continuous basis as the plane boards, but there is perhaps a 10- or 20-percent quota.

I have not heard of a 45-minute secondary screening.

The procedures vary tremendously between airports and airlines. The same airport may have different procedures for different airlines.
Some just require a "swabbing" of bags and shoes.
Others include frisking. Sometimes it is detailed and intrusive; sometimes just ceremonial and brief.
As you husband experienced, some include questioning--even inappropriate or disturbing questions.

These procedures are mandate by the US government, and that probably explains some eye rolling by the airlines. It is a time-consuming, labor-intensive process that the US requires.

I cannot explain why these procedures still exist. After all, the security "questions" were abandoned in the US in 2001. The SSSS designation has been dramatically reduced for flights within the US and departing from the US. Gate screening and "continuous screening" still exist, but have been dialed down.
My only guess is that the contract security companies (ICTS/Avsec) lobby for these contracts, and have cozy relationships with airlines and regulators.

As passengers, I fear that we are powerless to dismantle this system.

I'm sorry that your and your husband had this misfortune in Vienna.
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